Recapping Every Arch Madness Final
Last year the MVC celebrated 30 years of Arch Madness. From humble beginnings at a now-demolished venue in 1991, Arch Madness has grown to into one of the premier college basketball events in the nation. I am a veteran of seventeen Arch Madni. I started going in 2004 with my father, and it has evolved into one of the annual highlights of my year. I love sitting back and watching basketball for four straight days, conversing with Valley fans from all the schools and enjoying the town. Win or lose, it is a great vacation. And for MVC schools with football at the FCS level or none at all, Arch Madness constitutes the equivalent of a bowl game.
Today we are going to look back at the history of the Arch Madness final. There have been some good ones, and there have been some duds. You may notice that the later we go in the timeline, the longer these entries are. That is simply because I have access to more information on the more recent games. For some of the 90s events I am going purely off box score and this video. If you want to follow along with the brackets, scores and box scores all of that information can be found here, starting on page 180. That said, lets get to the list.
1991- #1 Creighton (12-4, 24-8) 68, #2 Southwest Missouri State (11-5, 22-12) 52: The most noteworthy detail about this final is that it was the first Arch Madness. Held at Kiel Auditorium, a venue that was demolished the following year, the first Arch Madness was just a shell of the event it would grow to become. Creighton, the regular season champion and winner of the tournament, sold just 200 all-session passes. The final was a bit of a dud that Creighton led by five at halftime and by eighteen at the buzzer. It appears the real action in 1991 was in the semifinals where Creighton beat SIU by 5 and SMS beat Tulsa by 2. In the dance, the BJs won a game as an 11-seed before losing to 3rd seeded Seton Hall in the second round. Tulsa, SIU and SMS went a combined 3-3 in the NIT.
1992- #3 Southwest Missouri State (13-5, 23-8) 71, #5 Tulsa (12-6, 17-13) 68: Though they have been to the final several times, 1992 was the only Arch Madness that Missouri State (née SMS) was able to over the hump and win the title. This was the second Arch Madness and the venue changed from the demolished Kiel Auditorium to St. Louis Arena (which is now also demolished). After the first final was a bit of a dude, the second one appears to have been a banger, as SMS and Tulsa played a one possession game. This tournament was an exciting one as both semifinals were also 3-point games, and both were upsets as 4th seeded Tulsa and 3rd seeded SMS beat regular season co-champs Southern Illinois and Illinois State. This was UNI’s first appearance in Arch Madness. Missouri State’s win allowed them to play in its fifth NCAA Tournament in six years, losing in the first round. SIU lost in the first round of the NIT.
1993- #2 Southern Illinois (12-6, 23-10) 70, #1 Illinois State (13-5, 19-10) 59: The Salukis cruised to the title over the regular season champion Redbirds. Chris Lowrey led SIU in scoring in this one, although they had five guys score in double figures. Lowry’s title is the front end of a bit of history that wouldn’t fully manifest for thirteen more years (you’ll have to wait keep reading to find out what it is). Interesting fact from this one, SIU won the game despite failing to make a single three pointer. The Salukis got torched by Duke in the NCAAs as a 14-seed, 105-70. Missouri State made the NIT quarterfinals (while regular season champion Illinois State was strangely either not invited or declined to participate). Fun fact: Creighton finished dead last in 1993. Sometimes people say “fun fact” and the facts aren’t’ that fun. In this case, I think you will all agree the fact delivered.
1994- #3 Southern Illinois (14-4, 23-7) 77, #5 Northern Iowa (10-8, 16-13) 74: This tournament has the rare distinction of having its Most Outstanding Player award go to someone from the losing team. Cam Johnson of UNI earned the award after willing his 5th seeded Panthers to the title game and scoring 25 points in a losing effort. The Salukis won the second of their three consecutive titles in this one-possession affair with future MVC head coaches Chris Lowry and Paul Lusk in the starting lineup. Future NBA player Chris Carr scored 20 points. Tulsa wasn’t in this final but did make the NCAAs with a 12-seed, proceeding to make a run to the Sweet 16 by beating UCLA and Oklahoma State (they ultimately lost to top seed Arkansas). SIU lost to Minnesota as an 11-seed in the NCAAs. Bradley made the NIT quarterfinals.
1995- #3 Southern Illinois (13-5, 23-9) 77, #1 Tulsa (15-3, 24-8) 62: Led by MVC POY Chris Carr’s 22 points (Paul Lusk added 16), the Salukis had no problem with regular season champion Tulsa in the title game. This was the first tournament played in the Enterprise Center, the event’s current venue (then called the Kiel Center, a name the parking garage kept for many, many years). After the tournament both Bradley and Illinois State advanced to the NIT’s second round. In the dance, for the second consecutive year SIU lost in round one (to 10th seed Syracuse 96-92) while Tulsa made a run to the Sweet 16 (beating 11-seed Illinois and 14-seed Old Dominion before losing to 2-seed UMass).
1996- #3 Tulsa (12-6, 22-8) 60, #1 Bradley (15-3, 22-8) 46: After two years of failing at Arch Madness as the 1-seed but proceeding to go on a Sweet 16 run, Tulsa finally prevailed with a 60-46 win over regular season champion Bradley. Despite winning Arch Madness, the Golden Hurricane did not have the NCAA success they had the previous two years as the 11th seeded squad fell in the first round of the tournament to Louisville in OT. Eight-seed Bradley also lost to 9-seed Stanford 66-58. Illinois State did go on a run to the NIT quarterfinals (beating Wisconsin on the way) where they lost to Tulane. This was one of two seasons where the Valley used an eleven-team model, which is currently thought to be logistically impossible. They did not have a play-in round to the tournament, and instead left three teams out entirely. One of those teams was three-time defending champion Southern Illinois. This was the first of four instances where the defending champion was not in the field at Arch Madness.
1997- #1 Illinois State (14-4, 24-6) 75, #3 Southwest Missouri State (12-6, 24-9) 72: For the first time in six years, the number one seed captured the Arch Madness title. It was Rico Hill that was the star in this game (not MVC Defensive Player of the Year Dan Muller) as he scored 31 points in the win, while Missouri State’s Danny Moore scored 27. The Redbirds stole the ball in the final seconds to prevent SMS from attempting a possible game tying three pointer. This was the second consecutive year the defending tournament champion would not participate in the event, as Tulsa left for the Valley for the WAC before the season. Bradley participated in the NIT where they won a game. Illinois State lost to Iowa State as an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
1998- #1 Illinois State (16-2, 25-6) 84, #3 Southwest Missouri State (11-7, 16-16) 74: It seems like more often than not the Valley’s best teams fail to win at Arch Madness. That was not the case here. Illinois State were clearly the best team in the Valley in 1998 and it showed at Arch Madness where they won all three games by double-digits en route to the title. MVC POY Rico Hill was the tournament MVP, but he only scored nine in the title game, unlike Dan Muller who scored 17. Muller’s best heroics would be saved for the NCAAs, where his late basket helped 9th seeded Illinois State topple 8th seeded Tennessee in the first round. Creighton lost to Marquette in the NIT.
1999- #2 Creighton (11-7, 22-9) 70, #1 Evansville (13-5, 23-10) 61: The Blue Jays turned a halftime deficit into a relatively easy win. First team all-leaguer Rodney Buford’s 21 points made him the captain of the all-tournament team. Despite the loss, this was regular season champion Evansville’s best season as an MVC team. The Aces have never won the title at Arch Madness but did advance to the NCAA Tournament in 1999. In fact, this was the first of the Valley’s golden years. Starting in 1999, the MVC had multiple teams make the NCAA Tournament for nine consecutive seasons. Evansville, seeded 11th, lost to Kansas in the NCAAs. Creighton was a 10-seed and beat Louisville before losing to Maryland. SMS was a 12-seed and beat Wisconsin (in what had to be a thrilling 43-32 game) and Tennessee before losing to Duke. That got Steve Alford a job at Iowa. Bradley lost in the first round of the NIT. Fun fact: Evansville rocked the full sleeves in this game.
2000- #4 Creighton (11-7, 23-10) 57, #2 Southwest Missouri State (13-5, 23-11) 45: Despite finishing fourth in the regular season, the Blue Jays defended their Arch Madness title by jumping out to a large halftime lead and cruising to a win over SMS. The Bears seem to be accumulating tough luck losses here. Ryan Sears was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player (a freshman by the name of Kyle Korver was still a role player at this point). Creighton handled the top two seeds in Indiana State and SMS on their way to the title. Both regular season champion Indiana State (12-seed) and tournament champion Creighton (10-seed) advanced to the NCAA Tournament where both lost in the first round. SIU and SMS both won an NIT game before bowing out in round two.
2001- #5 Indiana State (10-8, 22-12) 69, #2 Bradley (12-6, 19-12) 63: Fifth seeded Indiana State took down Bradley in the finals to claim the MVC title and NCAA bid. The tables were turned from the year before where Creighton upset the regular season champion Sycamores in the semifinals on their way to the title. This year the BJs were the regular season champs and lost to Indiana State in the semis. In both situations, both teams ended up getting into tournament. Creighton lost as a 10-seed to Iowa in the first round. Indiana State, seeded 13, won an exciting OT game against Oklahoma in round one before losing to 12th seeded Gonzaga in round two. That would help kickstart the Bulldogs’ mid-major dynasty. Bradley and Illinois State both lost in the first round of the NIT.
2002- #2 Creighton (14-4, 23-9) 84, #1 Southern Illinois (14-4, 28-8) 76: SIU led at halftime but league MVP Kyle Korver, who is STILL not officially retired from the NBA, led the Blue Jays back to a relatively easy victory. This would be an extremely telling matchup for how the early aughts would play out as regular season conference co-champions Southern Illinois and Creighton were the cream of the MVC crop. These two teams would become players on the national stage while dominating the MVC regular season and Arch Madness for the next several years. It began in 2002 as both teams got NCAA bids, both with double digit seeds (Creighton 12, SIU 11) and both won their first round games on the same day in the same arena. Creighton beat Florida in an exciting finish, and SIU toppled Texas Tech. SIU took it a step further with a win over Georgia to get to the Sweet 16 where they lost to UConn.
2003- #2 Creighton (15-3, 29-5) 80, #1 Southern Illinois (16-2, 24-7) 56: We saw a repeat of the 2002 season as second-seeded Creighton toppled regular season champion SIU 80-56. This was a weird result because of the way the tournament played out. Creighton and SIU were head and shoulders better than the rest of the league in 2003 and seemed destined for a legendary battle in the title game. SIU handled their business in the lead-up with easy wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Meanwhile, Creighton needed a lot of luck to beat last-place Indiana State in the quarterfinals as they did not score over the final 4+ minutes but were able to hang on, allowing just four Indiana State free throws to seal a one-point win. They trailed by ten at halftime the next day against Wichita before rallying for with a couple big defensive plays late for another one-point win. In the title game, though, Creighton jumped out to a 42-16 halftime lead and cruised to an easy win. Basketball is funny sometimes. Both the Blue Jays (who were seeded 6th) and the Salukis (who were seeded 11th) lost close games in the NCAA Tournament. Wichita also lost its NIT game to Iowa State.
2004- #2 Northern Iowa (12-6, 21-10) 79, #5 Southwest Missouri State (9-9, 19-14) 74, 2OT: Northern Iowa captured the first of their five Arch Madness titles in this double overtime thriller. SIU was the dominant team in the MVC in 2004, getting off to a 17-0 start before losing their final game at the UNI-Dome, which allowed UNI to jump into the #2 seed. It was the beginning of a disappointing end-of-year for SIU who lost to 5th seeded SMS in the semifinals in St. Louis. UNI, who had its most successful season as a member of the MVC, had a fourteen-point lead with 11:40 to go. MSU rallied to tie it with 4:44 left and both teams could only muster three points over the final 5 minutes to send it to OT. MSU tied the game at the end of the first OT (after a UNI missed free throw) but ran out of rallies in OT2, although they took their first lead since the very start of the game early on. Tournament MVP Ben Jacobson (no relation to the coach) hit a three, and then the Panthers hit another and never looked back. Unfortunately, the Valley was 0-4 in the postseason. Creighton (71-70 to Nebraska) and Wichita State (84-82 to Florida State) were losers in the NIT first round, while 9th seeded SIU (65-64 to Alabama) and 14th seeded UNI (65-60 to eventual runner-up Georgia Tech) lost in the NCAAs. The four losses were by a total of nine points. This was the first Arch Madness I saw in person!
2005- #3 Creighton (11-7, 23-11) 75, #5 Southwest Missouri State (10-8, 19-13) 57: For the second consecutive year, SMS beat the defending tournament champion in the quarterfinals and the regular season champion in the semifinals. And for the second consecutive year after doing all that work they fell short in the title game. Unlike the previous season where the Bears lost a double-OT heartbreaker, this game featured no drama in the waning moments. MSU was as close as 52-50 with seven minutes left to play, but Creighton dominated from there for another MVC title. We have entered the league’s golden era, as no less than five MVC teams participated in the postseason. SMS beat Rice in the NIT before losing to Davidson. Wichita State beat Houston and Western Kentucky before losing to Vanderbilt, 65-63, in the NIT. Northern Iowa is still the only MVC team to get a bid despite losing in the tournament quarterfinals, and they lost as an 11-seed to Wisconsin, 57-52. Tenth seeded Creighton lost to West Virginia by 2. Seventh seeded SIU beat St Mary’s before losing by eight to 2nd seed Oklahoma State.
2006- #2 Southern Illinois (12-6, 22-9) 59, #5 Bradley (11-7, 22-11) 46: The regular season champion lost in the semifinals for the third consecutive year, but this time SIU was not the victim. In fact, they were the beneficiary as they cruised to a relatively easy victory over the 5th seeded Bradley Braves. SIU’s win secured their fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, and Chris Lowry became the first person to win the Valley tournament as both a player and a coach (payoff for those who have been reading since the 1993 entry!). The Salukis trailed at halftime but started the second half on a 17-2 run and put it away from there. This was the first Sunday MVC final and the first final broadcast on CBS, which has become the tradition since. It was the apex of the Valley’s 21st century golden years as six MVC teams were in the running for NCAA bids after the season. All four semifinalists ended up getting bids while the other two played in the NIT, despite Digger Phelps insistence that the MVC was undeserving of multiple bids because “I watched the MVC Championship Game and I was unimpressed.” Cool man. The Valley made good on their promise in the dance with two of the four teams advancing to the sweet 16, despite the fact that three of the teams had double-digit seeds. Eleventh seeded SIU and tenth seeded UNI lost in the first round to West Virginia and Georgetown. But 7-seed Wichita State beat Seton Hall and Tennessee before losing in the Sweet 16 to George Mason. Bradley, seeded 13th, beat Kansas and Pitt before losing to Memphis. Creighton won a game in the NIT, Missouri State won two.
2007- #2 Creighton (13-5, 22-11) 67, #1 Southern Illinois (15-3, 29-7) 61: SIU was the juggernaut of MVC regular season titles in the early 2000s, but they couldn’t seem to beat Creighton in the tournament. This particular year was one of SIU’s best, with MVC POY Jamal Tatum, first-teamer Randal Falker, and three members of the all-defensive team including a young man named Bryan Mullins. They were ranked 11th heading into the tournament and had beaten Creighton eight consecutive times (their last loss was in the 2003 MVC title game). But when it came to St. Louis, it didn’t seem to matter as Creighton blew through the field with two easy victories to get to the final while SIU struggled a bit in both of their games, including a late winner to beat Bradley by two. This game wasn’t a blowout, but it did feel like the Blue Jays were in control most of the way. The loss did not stop SIU from finishing the season strong, nor did the win propel Creighton to NCAA greatness. The Blue Jays lost as a 10-seed in the first round to Nevada in overtime. SIU, seeded 4th, the second highest seed of any MVC team during this era, beat Holy Cross and Virginia Tech by double digits before losing to top seed Kansas by three in the Sweet 16. Missouri State was one-and-done in the NIT, while Bradley beat Providence in OT before losing badly to Mississippi State in round two.
2008- #1 Drake (15-3, 28-5) 79, #2 Illinois State (13-5, 25-10) 49: The 2008 Drake Bulldogs are one of the craziest stories of the last few decades in the MVC. Drake had gone 6-12 the year before and lost four starters. They hadn’t finished higher than sixth in the MVC since 1993. Then they came out of nowhere and won the MVC by two games in 2008. They also had the MVC POY (Adam Emmenecker), another first teamer (Josh Young), two second teamers, and the national Coach of the Year (Keno Davis). And they completely blew through Arch Madness, winning three games by an average of almost 19 points including this 30-point drubbing of Illinois State. The Bulldogs led by 21 at the break and became the first team in ten years to win both the regular season and tournament championship. Illinois State came up short in its at-large bid attempt, so the MVC was a one-bid league for the first time in ten years. This was the first year of third-tier tourneys, as Bradley was the runner up in the CBI. Creighton, SIU and Illinois State all split two games each in the NIT. Drake’s NCAA Tournament run ended in the first round when (as a 5-seed) they lost an absolute heartbreaker to Western Kentucky on a wild overtime buzzer beater. After that they went right back to the bottom half of the league for another decade like nothing ever happened.
2009- #1 Northern Iowa (14-4, 23-11) 60, #3 Illinois State (11-7, 24-10) 57 OT: The theme of “Iowa team coming out of nowhere to win the regular season and tournament titles” continued in 2008, this time with UNI winning this absolutely thrilling Arch Madness final. The 2009 tournament again saw the rarity of a non-winning player winning the tournament MVP, and at that point UNI was involved in the only two times it happened. Osiris Eldridge absolutely deserved it. He put on a show in the second half, as he carried Illinois State to the brink of a title. The Redbirds led the game by three with two minutes to go and had the ball. They missed the shot and Brandon Sampay got an offensive rebound and had the opportunity to tip it in and give the Redbirds a five-point lead. Instead, he took the ball out to run clock. From that point on UNI forced a miss, got a layup, forced another miss, hit two free throws, forced a turnover, hit two more free throws, and forced a miss for an exciting 60-57 win. The Valley went a little crazy with 3rd tier tournaments in 2009. They were still new and exciting at the time. Drake and Evansville lost in the CIT first round, while Bradley advanced to the title game and lost to Old Dominion. Wichita State split a pair of games in the CBI, ultimately losing to Stanford. MVC co-champion Creighton beat Bowling Green before losing by one at home to Kentucky in the NIT, while Illinois State lost their NIT opener at K-State in OT. UNI, seeded 12th, lost to Purdue by 5 in the NCAA Tournament.
2010- #1 Northern Iowa (15-3, 30-5) 67, #2 Wichita State (12-6, 25-10) 52: I think sometimes this Northern Iowa team is a bit underrated when talking about the best teams in MVC history. The Panthers absolutely cruised through the MVC season, winning the league by three games and spending a large portion of it in the top 25. They also cruised through Arch Madness, winning each game by no less than 15 points and holding their opponents to an average of 44. This team was just OK offensively, but they were as dominant a defensive team as I have ever seen. The Shockers had beaten UNI during the regular season and led this one at the half. They led by six with 16:24 to go, when UNI did what they did best in 2010. They put the clamps down. By the time the Shockers made another field goal more than twelve game minutes had passed, and UNI had gone on a 23-3 run to put the game away. I think it is fair to say the Valley had the best CIT anyone has ever had in 2010. Missouri State and Creighton each won their first two games before meeting in the semifinal that Missouri State won. The Bears went on to win the title. Indiana State lost to SLU in the first round of the CBI, and Wichita State and Illinois State both lost first round NIT games. UNI was underseeded at 9th and proceeded to prove it by beating UNLV and number one overall seed Kansas in the second round to reach the Sweet 16 where this author watched in person as they fell to Michigan State.
2011- #3 Indiana State (12-6, 20-14) 60, #1 Missouri State (15-3, 26-9) 56: In 2011, an Indiana State team featuring no first-teamers or second-teamers and led by a freshman in Jake Odum, won the MVC Tournament over the regular season champion Missouri State Bears. It was an exciting game, as MSU had the ball with a chance to win or tie in the final seconds but turned it over. The tournament was an interesting one overall. MSU had to put up a furious rally in the final minutes of their quarterfinal game to beat SIU. Indiana State need heroics of their own to top Evansville in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, I was worried that my worst nightmare of a Creighton-Wichita final might come to fruition. Thankfully for me (but sadly for CBS) both the Shockers and Blue Jays lost setting up the MSU-ISU final. The 2011 season was one of the weaker overall in some time for the MVC, and it was the first time the MVC regular season champion failed to make the NCAAs since 1993. It was the fourth consecutive year the MVC was a one-bid league. But the Valley still had a robust postseason. UNI split two games to make it to the quarterfinals of the CIT, losing to SMU. Evansville split a pair of games in the CBI, losing to Boise. Creighton won three games before losing in the CBI final to Oregon. Missouri State handled Murray State in the NIT before losing to Miami in the second round. Wichita State beat Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Washington State and Alabama for the NIT title. In the dance, 14th seeded Indiana State lost to Syracuse by 17.
2012- #2 Creighton (14-4, 29-6) 83, #4 Illinois State (9-9, 21-14) 79 OT: Illinois State suffers yet another heartbreak in this OT thriller. This was a season in which regular season champion Wichita (16-2) and runner-up Creighton (14-4) were both ranked entering the tournament and were head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the league (five teams tied for third at 9-9). The Redbirds nearly knocked off both of them in consecutive days in St. Louis. ISU rallied from down 13 early in the second half to beat the 15th ranked Shockers in the semifinals. The game was a doozie, as WSU had two shots to win it in the final possession. The final was one of the most frantic finishes to regulation we have seen in an Arch Madness title game. Tied with two minuets to go, Grant Gibbs hit a 3 to put Creighton up, then Nic Moore of Illinois State hit two free throws for ISU to make it 63-62. After the BJs made one of two free throws, ISU tied it with a layup, CU took the lead on two free throws and ISU made a driving layup with six seconds left to send it to OT. CU mostly controlled the extra frame for the title. Indiana State went on to lose in the first round of the CIT, while Evansville lost in the first round of the CBI. Drake won one CIT game. UNI and Illinois State were both in the NIT as 7-seeds and both opened with a road win. Illinois State beat Mississippi in OT and UNI won by 3 at St Joes. The Valley got multiple NCAA bids for the first time since 2007. Wichita was seeded fifth and lost in round one to VCU, while Creighton won an 8-9 game over Alabama before losing to North Carolina.
2013- #1 Creighton (13-5, 28-8) 68, #2 Wichita State (12-6, 30-8): Did you know that the 2013 Final Four Shockers team was neither the MVC regular season, nor tournament champion? Both of those titles went to Creighton in their final year in the league. And both were won by beating Wichita in the final game. Despite the no-win outcome for most MVC fans, this was an exciting game. It wasn’t in the bag until Wichita’s last-ditch three pointer missed at the buzzer. You can see the highlights in this video, which is weirdly set to the music ESPN uses for NFL highlights. Neither of these teams is in the MVC anymore, so I don’t have much else to say. The Valley played in TEN CIT games this year. Bradley, Evansville and UNI all won their first and second round games. Evansville and UNI won in the quarterfinals (UNI beating Bradley), and both lost in the semis. Indiana State lost to Iowa in the NIT’s first round. In the NCAAs, Creighton got a 7-seed and Wichita a nine. Creighton beat Cincinnati in their first game before losing to Duke. Wichita State beat Pittsburgh in their first game, then toppled 1-seed Gonzaga. They got a favorable matchup with 13-seed La Salle in the Sweet 16, which was another win. They beat 2nd seed Ohio State in the elite eight to get to the Final Four where they lost to Louisville.
2014- #1 Wichita State (18-0, 35-1) 83, #2 Indiana State (12-6, 23-11) 69: It is 2014 and guess who just won their first ever Arch Madness title? That’s right, Wichita State. It took a GD undefeated season, but the Shockers finally won one. This was the first year post-Creighton for the Valley and Wichita took full advantage. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if Wichita had left with Creighton, because Indiana State had a darn good team that year too. I wonder what that team might have done in the NCAAs. ISU actually hung pretty tough in this one and the game wasn’t over until a 13-0 run increased a five point lead to 18 with 5:38 to go in the game. After the season, Missouri State lost in the first round of the CIT to Murray, Illinois State won two games (including a home win over Texas A&M) to get to the semis of the CBI before losing to Siena, and Indiana State lost at Arkansas in the NIT. Wichita State was a 1-seed in the NCAAs but lost in the second round to Kentucky.
2015: #2 Northern Iowa (16-2, 31-4) 69, #4 Illinois State (11-7, 22-13) 60: Before this Arch Madness began, all signs pointed to an epic throwdown between the 8th ranked Shockers and the 11th ranked Panthers in the final. The Shockers had won the regular season title on the final day with a win in over UNI in Wichita, and the two had combined to go 31-1 against all the other members of the MVC. However, the Shockers inability to win in St. Louis reared its head again and they lost a semifinal thriller to Illinois State. That set up this final, and it was much more interesting than the score indicated. Illinois State led by as many as 18 points in the first half and had a fourteen-point halftime lead. It looked like the MVC was going to get three NCAA bids, and everyone who was not a UNI or Bradley fan was on board with that. Then the Panthers outscored Illinois State 25-6 over the first 9 minutes of the second half to take a 47-40 lead. The Redbirds did rally to tie one more time at 47-47, but an ensuing 10-2 Panther run put it away. Evansville went on to win the CIT, going 5-0 through the tournament. Loyola won the CBI with a 4-0 run. Illinois State beat Green Bay in the NIT before a tough 50-49 loss at Old Dominion in the NIT. UNI was seeded fifth and beat Wyoming before losing to Louisville in the NCAAs. Seventh seeded Wichita beat Indiana and Kansas before losing to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
2016: #4 Northern Iowa (11-7, 23-13) 56, #2 Evansville (12-6, 25-9) 54: This UNI Alum remembers this as the most thrilling, fun Arch Madness ever played from start to finish. Upon further review, however, it was just the UNI parts that were exciting. The Panthers played in three outstanding games that came down to the wire, and the rest of the games were pretty much bleh. We got this finals matchup because regular season champions Wichita State, led by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, continued their St. Louis ineptitude by losing a semifinal barnburner yet again. UNI beat the Shockers in OT despite not scoring until the 12:11 mark in the first half and holding the lead only once the entirety of regulation. Meanwhile, Evansville had absolutely no trouble whatsoever with Indiana State in the other semifinal, winning 68-42. In the title game, UNI controlled the game early and looked to be running away with it. They led by as many as 17 early in the second half. But Evansville slowly chipped away at the UNI advantage, twice taking the lead in the final minutes. With under a minute to go, Wes Washpun hit a jumper for the Panthers, only for DJ Balentine to answer for the Aces on the next possession. Finally, Washpun hit the game winner at the buzzer, a shot that bounced off the back of the rim, flew high into the air, and fell in. It is the only Arch Madness winning buzzer beater in tournament history and it triggered heartbreak for UE and pandemonium for UNI. Wichita State got into the dance as one of the last four teams in and won a First Four game against Vanderbilt, followed by a win over Arizona as an 11-seed. They lost to 3-seed Miami in the round of 32. UNI had one of the biggest swings of clutch in NCAA history when, as an 11-seed, they won on a halfcourt buzzer beater over Texas in round one. They then suffered the biggest final minute collapse in NCAA history in round two losing to Texas A&M. UE was left out of the NIT, and no other MVC teams participated in the postseason.
2017- #2 Wichita State (17-1, 31-5) 71, #1 Illinois State (17-1 , 28-7) 51: Three schools have left the MVC in the Arch Madness era, and after this game all three left as Arch Madness Champions. Wichita put aside their St. Louis troubles to take the title in their Arch Madness swan song. This final was a yet another letdown for Illinois State fans in the championship game (and for neutral fans as well). Coming into this tournament the league co-champions seemed destined to meet in the finals, as they had gone a combined 34-0 against everyone else in the league and split with each other during the season. No one else in the league even finished above .500. As expected, both advanced to the final with little issue setting up what looked to be an exciting championship game. But the game was a dud. Illinois State fell behind early, trailing by eight points at halftime. They never got any closer than that in the second half and Wichita State pulled away for an easy win. The tenth seeded Shockers beat Dayton in the first round before losing to Kentucky by 3 in round two. Elsewhere Illinois State lost in the second round of the NIT after a controversial call at the end of the game.
2018- #1 Loyola (15-3, 32-6) 63, #3 Illinois State (10-8, 18-15) 49: The Ramblers make their first (and to date only) appearance on this list, winning the title en route to the Final Four. For Illinois State, it was yet another bummer of a performance in the championship game. Loyola was easily the best team in the MVC in 2018, but they had to survive tough challenges from both UNI and Bradley in the run-up to get to the final. Illinois State also faced some challenges, playing a close one against Indiana State in round one and going to OT with Southern Illinois in the semifinals. It was a competitive tournament overall, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was the deepest the Valley had been in a while, with every team winning at least 15 games and the league finishing with their highest overall RPI rating since before Creighton left. In the end, the final was a bit of a snooze as Loyola led by double digits for most of the second half and booked a spot in their first NCAA Tournament since 1985. You might remember what happened next. Obviously, I am referring to Drake beating Abilene Christian before losing to Northern Colorado in the second round of the CIT. The Ramblers made a run in the dance too. Loyola was seeded 11th, and beat Miami on a buzzer beater. Then they beat Tennessee on a late shot. Then they held on to beat Nevada. Then they got a relatively easy win over Kansas State. And wouldn’t you know it? They found themselves in the Final Four where they took a 7-point lead into the break against Michigan, but ultimately lost.
2019- #5 Bradley (9-9, 20-15) 57, #6 Northern Iowa (9-9, 16-18) 54: Bradley had a furious rally to beat UNI in the final of one of the weirdest Arch Madni of all time. Both league co-champions (Loyola and Drake) fell in the semifinals to the finalists Bradley and UNI. BU escaped with a 53-51 win over Loyola (fresh off their Final Four run), and UNI beat a very shorthanded Drake on a nearly-last-second shot, 60-58. That set up the lowest seeded final in Arch Madness history. UNI dominated early, jumping out to a 14-2 lead, and holding a 35-17 edge early in the second half. Bradley rallied and continued to cut the lead over the course of the second half. Late in the game, with the Panthers leading by one, BU got a six-point play. A foul was called on UNI that gave BU two free throws, and after a review a technical foul was added (controversially in this author’s opinion). BU made the two regular free throws, hit both technical free throws and scored on the ensuing play after retaining possession to take a 5-point lead with 1:43 to go. UNI actually rallied to the point that they had the ball down one with 20 seconds to go, but they couldn’t get over the hump and Bradley had a thrilling come-from-behind Arch Madness final victory. It was the first tournament win in St. Louis for Bradley. Thank goodness they got it too, because missing out on the dance in 2020 would have been even tougher to swallow had they not. Drake lost to Southern Utah in the CIT, and Loyola lost to Creighton in the NIT. Fifteenth seeded Bradley gave Michigan State a run in the NCAAs but ultimately lost 76-65.
2020- #4 Bradley (11-7, 23-11) 80, #7 Valparaiso (9-9, 19-16) 66: The Braves won their second title in a row topping off one of the weirdest, most fun Arch Madni in history. Going into this event, in the St. Louis era of Arch Madness only one team had ever gotten to the semifinals after playing in the play-in rounds. It hadn’t happened at all since the 90s. In 2020, it happened twice. First, eighth seeded Drake beat top seed UNI. Later that night seventh seeded Valpo beat second seed Loyola. Third seeded Indiana State also lost in the quarterfinals for good measure. The next day, Valpo won again to become the first MVC team to advance from the play-in round to the finals. That left the Braves with the task of beating the 5th seed, the 8th seed and the 7th seed for the title. And they did, they absolutely did. Valpo actually led this one at the half, and the lead was extended to six a few minutes into the half. They led as late as the ten-minute mark in the second half. But it was clear fatigue from playing four games in a row had started to set in and they simply ran out of gas. The Crusaders went eight minutes without hitting a shot and by the time they finally did the Braves had pulled away. Bradley shot free throws well down the stretch and held on for the easy win. We’ll never know what would have happened in the postseason due to the pandemic.
That is all 30! Let me know what pieces of info I missed. What do I need to know about the finals in the 90s? How did I screw over your team? Let me have it.